Clark watched Lex's eyes flicker. Not all, but Clark wasn't sure he wanted to hear more. Involuntarily, his hand reached out, touching Lex's mouth, the almost completely healed lip, and it was pathetic, how much he relaxed when Lex didn't flinch away.
"They--believed me. I suppose the rampant bleeding had something to do with it." Lex shifted uncomfortably. "They want to believe so badly that they're willing to--see what they want to."
Clark nodded slowly, imagining it out. "What are they doing here?"
"They used to mine the meteor rock. Kryptonite." Lex didn't seem to think it was weird at all that Clark's hands were tracking his face like this. "The Kryptonians won't find us. They don't even know this cell is here still."
Clark blinked. "How do they--"
"I don't know. Explains the fields, though." Clark blinked, and Lex pulled away to roll on his back thoughtfully. "They call it the badlands because of meteor poisoning. I was right. Apparently, it's pretty damaging to the respiratory systems of Kryptonians." Lex snorted softly.
Clark blinked. "I--when we were on the surface, I didn't feel it."
"You would have if you'd breathed enough of it in." Lex's voice was very hard. "Dust. They sowed it into the earth. Kryptonians can't grow anything in it, can't purify it, can't do anything but avoid it or go out in suits, and since they think that this area's been mined out of meteor rock, they don't really want to anymore." Lex sighed softly. "Relatively speaking, this is probably the safest place on the planet for us, especially with the shield up."
Lex glanced over at him. "I only got a look at it, and I've never been a physicist or an engineer. From what I understand, it's the failsafe, in case the Kryptonians take it into their heads to go looking for more rock." Lex's voice sounded frustrated. "I can't get good explanations because I'm supposed to know this crap. I need access to the databases without them seeing me and wondering why on earth I need information I should already have."
Clark shivered a little.
"The ship we saw--"
"Scared the shit out of them. They thought someone had finally noticed that they were here."
Clark stared at Lex's profile. "Why are they here?"
Lex grinned suddenly. "The caves."
That made him sit straight up. The caves. Oh Jesus, he'd completely forgotten.
"They know about those?" In here? Somewhere? Images danced in his mind, remembering the parasites, the things on the walls--that thing in the wall. His voice caught in his throat. "Do they know what they are?"
Lex looked thoughtful. "Not exactly, but close." The blue eyes flickered to Clark, amusement obvious. "Though this does make Kyla make sense."
Lex stared around the brightly lit room. A glance at the power generators told him that they didn't do this often--worn out machinery that had obviously seen better days, much, much better days, but they wanted to show him this.
And God, did he want to see.
"We've been trying to translate for years," Mrs. Ross said from behind him. "We sent out records by secure channels, but even those who live among the Kryptonians don't understand this. Apparently, this is a formal dialect of the language, which even the collaborators don't know."
Lex looked at her sharply. "They're taught the language?" For some reason, that unnerved him.
She smiled, slow and bitter. "You know the rules of conquest. Everyone who wants to live knows."
Lex nodded, pushing the subject aside. "You've kept it intact." For some reason, he would have expected them to destroy it, but--no. Passionate people, but not stupid. They knew a mine of potentially valuable information when they saw it, no matter its origins.
Mrs. Ross crossed to the wall, hand touching the octagonal hole lightly. Lex thought of the key. "This is important. We--we don't have the equipment or the knowledge to scan and find out what this *is*, but--" She shrugged. "There's something here. Something they don't know about and we want to find out what it is."
Lex nodded slowly, turning in a careful circle. So carefully preserved, and the floor showed the signs of thousands of feet who must have trampled through here, desperate for information.
"You need a Rosetta stone." Lex thought of Clark--he'd still been unconscious when Lex had been allowed to check, but very much alive. So far so good.
"This is the reason you destroyed Smallville, isn't it?"
Mrs. Ross nodded. "You were only a kid when the decision was made. They were--too interested in the area. They were getting the rock before we could, and they were--" She stopped, frowning. "It was a difficult decision. We needed these caves. We had to keep them away. If they saw what we were doing, they'd know something was here that we wanted to hide."
"How did you do it?"
Mrs. Ross' smile twisted. "We had a plan. The town was already almost deserted, but--there was enough to make it look real, close enough to Metropolis to make it look like a serious attack. An attack on the Kryptonian officers stationed here, coordinated with as many cells as we could contact. Enough to look genuine. Enough to make it reasonable that we'd risk the last of our supply of Kryptonite."
Lex tried to imagine it. "They chose big, obvious targets."
"They knew they'd fail."
Her voice was quiet. "They knew what they were dying to protect."
Lex kept his eyes on the wall, staring blindly at a character that blurred. Tried to imagine giving orders to attack something that couldn't be breached, different cells in different places, all to hide one attack that would succeed in its own failure. That's all they'd needed. One meteor-laced bomb....
"It contaminated the ground."
"For almost a decade, they haven't walked this earth." Her eyes flashed. "They didn't dare. And they had no reason. They thought that the meteor rock had been mined out, and that day--" Her voice caught. "They thought the rebellion was over."
Lex nodded blindly.
"It's dangerous here, for humans." Her voice dropped even lower. "We lead shield everything, and hope to God they don't wander through looking too hard and notice. Some left, after. Some--didn't."
Lex thought of James, who couldn't have been more than a baby the day that bomb was set off. From the look on her face, she knew what he was thinking.
"Mutation?" His voice almost cracked.
She nodded slowly. "Most of us, in various ways. We--then we didn't know. Not until--" she stopped short, sucking in a breath. "James adapted. Most didn't. Some left and were--discovered. The Kryptonians are very interested in the effects of the rocks on humans. They can--find those of us touched when we leave, somehow. So we hide here."
Lex nodded slowly. He felt her eyes study him, almost clinical.
"You'd know about that, though." The sympathy froze him, and he turned to face her, but the dark eyes were understanding. He shook his head, feeling the first vague stir of panic. "Hiding."
Her smile was sad, a brush of fingers against the black eye that no longer hurt. He winced away too late to pretend there was pain. Even to himself.
"It's all in the database," she said softly, and Lex couldn't make himself step away. So many questions he'd never wanted to ask, answered. "The day they came to earth. You were there. And you were touched."
Clark stared at Lex, watching his mouth, a tight line of something that wasn't quite anger. Wasn't quite anything definable, but Clark thought he understood.
"That--explains a lot." It was all he could think to say. A vivid memory of a certain Porsche came to mind and he wondered if Lex had felt like that. "You--didn't know?"
"I didn't know you were an alien either." His voice was tight, and Clark wondered how on earth anyone could go through life not noticing that they healed *really* fast. Maybe like they didn't notice they never got cuts or scrapes when they fell, or that they rarely bruised, or excused superspeed as something that, sure, was weird, but at least human.
Maybe he really wasn't the only one who did oblivious like a lifestyle choice.
"Lex--" Jesus. His hair and his body. Clark didn't even try to stop the habitual guilt from settling back in. "I'm sorry."
A few long moments, then Lex sighed. "I should have known."
Clark almost smiled. "Yeah, well, if it's any consolation, the alien thing? Kind of new to me, too."
Lex looked at him, sharp interest, and Clark smiled then, couldn't help it. "How new?"
"Weird accident. Car hit me. You might have heard about that."
The blue eyes widened, staring into his for an endless moment. "*That* is when you found out?"
Clark snickered softly. "Let's say a run in with some farm machinery the next day solidified the whole thing."
"Jesus Christ." Sitting up, Lex looked down at him. "You didn't know."
"Not a clue."
They stared at each other for a long second, then the smile broke--Lex, grinning down at him, and it was like being in the castle, at home, with a Lex he knew, with a *Clark* he knew, and Clark sucked in breath and laughed softly. After a second, Lex joined him, breathless and shocky and relieved all at once, and Clark couldn't even had said why, but it felt good.
Made the world--right, somehow.
Collapsing on the bed, Lex stared at the ceiling as if it had answers to every mystery in the world.
"I don't want you to be afraid of me," Clark heard himself say, and what the *hell*? Biting his tongue a second too late, he caught Lex's eyes, and oddly, right now, they seemed so full of light that the room seemed brighter. Blue like a Smallville summer before the heat took over.
Breath catching in his throat, Clark stared back, surprised at the touch on his face. Soft and gentle and so very not-Lex, still learning how to do this, how to be close. How to want to be when you need to be. "I never have been."
Clark's gaze flickered to the wall, remembering Lex against it, the way Lex had looked at him before Clark backed away. "I would be."
The slowest smile in the world. The Lex he'd first met, maybe, before the lies between them had grown too thick to look beyond. Before they'd stopped thinking that some day, they'd never have to lie at all. "I'm not."
It was a more comfortable silence, and they might be in a cave in the middle of a war and surrounded by lead, and right, they were in a place that made no sense, but--it seemed. Better, somehow.
"We're going to get out of this," Lex told him softly, still with that endless touch, a single spot of pure warmth and familiarity in an unfamiliar world. "We're going to get out of here. Trust me."
It said a lot about this moment that Lex could say that without irony.
And it might say more that Clark could, too. "I do."